Algeria, rushing to modernise after years of strife, is spending $16 billion on airports, ports and roads in a project offering “golden opportunities” for contractors, including foreigners, a minister said on Thursday.

Public Works Minister, Amar Ghoul told Reuters the five-year programme was “making up for lost time” after more than a decade in which the economy of Africa’s second largest country was damaged by conflict between security forces and Islamist rebels.

“We will spend more than $16 billion to close the gap as we are very behind,” Ghoul said in an interview.

“The Algerian market is fully open (for foreign suppliers) and attractive. It offers golden opportunities. This includes all activities in the public works sector from studies, design, construction, maintenance, expertise to management,” he said.

The plan is part of a $80 billion government venture started last year to spur economic growth, create jobs and restore hope to the 33 million people after years of fighting that cost an estimated 200,000 lives and caused $30 billion in damage.

Last month, Algeria committed a large chunk of the spending when it awarded contracts estimated at $7 billion to Japanese and Chinese consortiums to build parts of a 1,300-km (812 mile) highway across the country from Tunisia to Morocco.

“More international tenders will be launched. The best (bidder) will win the deals,” he said.

In addition to the east-west highway, Ghoul’s 2005-2009 plan includes seven new bypasses, 25,000 km (15,600 miles) of roads, five new fishing ports and four airports.

Algeria is also contributing $260 million to a multinational venture to build a 7,000 km (4,300 mile) trans-Saharan road linking Algeria to Lagos in Nigeria.

“Algeria is pushing for better South-South exchanges. This project has a social and economic dimension,” Ghoul said. Algerian cities are often clogged by traffic due to lack of sufficient roads and the variable quality of those there are.

“Infrastructure will ease and alleviate pressure of traffic and boost economic exchanges across the country. It will also permit a better regional balance between provinces,” he said.

The government was unable to tackle the problem in the 1990s due to the reluctance of international firms to come to the country because of Islamist-linked violence.

But rebel attacks have fallen sharply in recent years, allowing foreign investors to gradually return.

Algeria spends $16 bn on transport rehabilitation